Solar panels are getting cheaper all the time. But, for people on a tight budget, they can still seem pretty expensive. That goes double if you’re in a rental and can’t wait ten years for your solar investment to pay off. In this post, we’ll look at some strategies you can use if you want to experiment with solar on little or no money.
Firstly, don’t be afraid to hunt for bargains. eBay is full of vendors selling cheap panels, either because of cosmetic flaws or because the firm that produced them went bust. Surplus stores like Electronics Goldmine often have small ‘solar scraps’ for sale, and sometimes larger ones. Don’t let the fact that they’re the products of ‘minor league’ firms put you off if the price is right.
What’s that? You don’t want to pay anything at all? Difficult, but not impossible. We’ll start with the obvious advice: keep your eyes peeled! Like windows and doors, panels are too big to make obvious candidates for a yard sale. If a new owner doesn’t want them, they may end up tossed in the dumpster. (If you’re planning an evening’s dumpster diving, remember to bring heavy gloves and eye protection.)
Neighbours too canny? Head out of town. Go to the electronics store, or the garden centre — anywhere that stocks panels, in fact. Solar panels are heavy and brittle, and they aren’t a trucker’s favorite load. It’s pretty common for a few panels to get broken in a big shipment.
Now, the term ‘broken’ can mean different things to different people. For instance, if the glass protection in front of the cells is cracked, the store clerk may see the panel as unsaleable. An ordinary Joe with a garage, a screwdriver and a replacement glass may take quite a different view.
But maybe the panel really is broken, with cracks in the backing sheet that holds the cells? Not always a problem. Remember, every panel is made up of multiple cells. All you have to do is cut away the damaged ones, wire up the good cells to the panel outputs, and you’ve got a smaller, working panel. If you get really good at wiring, you might go the whole hog and start building your own solar panels out of what you salvage.
By the way, if you’re into salvage, focus on the good stuff. You’ll likely have more fun with high-end monocrystalline cells than junked last-generation thin film.